A multi-purpose theatre with demountable blue seating for 350 people or standing room for 900, served by an all-over technical ceiling grid that enables varied reconfigurations between stage and spectator spaces. The main auditorium is filled out by a rehearsal hall that is also equipped with a ceiling grid. Adjoining them, a double-height volume houses five dressing rooms for the players and a foyer on its lower level, with administration premises above.
All the new volumes are contained in a large stepped carcase in untreated concrete, with one out-slanting lower wall. The carcase is cut by two big horizontal picture windows and capped by a raised metal roof that unfolds like a hood in three sloped planes. In the gap between the lower volumes, mineral and largely encased, and the light-weight metal roof, the theatre exposes its internal mechanics and technical equipment, asserting its function as a cultural machine.
The theatre extends an existing cultural centre built twenty years ago in neo-Provençal style. New and old are joined by an external corridor defined by wire mesh, prolonged by a narrow enclosed passageway that marks transition between the hall of the old wing and the atmosphere of the new playhouse.
The new auditorium has a capacity of 350 seated, using demountable stands of blue flap-seats in different configurations, or 900 standing. It features a continuous active ceiling grid covering the entire floor area, with catwalks on the sides, an arrangement that ensures maximum flexibility in rearranging stage and audience space.
In the main auditorium, one wall top is cut away to open a panoramic screen, 13,5 x 3 m, which frames views of nearby rocky outcrops, revealing the flat site’s picturesque surrounds as they read from within the theatre. This live monitor displays a direct crossover between inside and out. A purpose-designed rehearsal hall the same size as the main stage adjoins the auditorium, enabling a troupe in residence to work without monopolizing available space.
Players and personnel have their own access/exit on the side opposite to that of the public entrance. It opens to a double-height volume with the players’ dressings rooms and foyer on the lower level and the administration premises above. A prop storage reserve adjoins the stage spaces, with access from the rear delivery bay.
Defined in two folds, the roof’s three oblique planes cover all the technical equipment and installations serving the stage spaces and other interior volumes. It is like a hood lifted over a motor, exposing side-views of the theatre’s machinery.
Flying a kite through the windy skies delicately balances the heady delights of controlling the elements. It offers the pleasures of being able to guide this delicate and colourful sail through impeccable trajectories and audacious arabesques to brush against, reveal and finally define a motionless, heavier and imperfect world. There is always the fear of a sudden shift of the wind or a fatal lack of control that will immediately result in the kite plummeting to the ground and ending this escape from the real world’s gravity.
The Château-Arnoux auditorium is located in the heart of a reality that is as dull as it is tedious, that of a Paris dormitory town. The problem of their design is somewhat like the delicate and risky art of kite flying. In these difficult urban situations, the solution is not to impose a successful graft or insertion but rather to attempt a perilous immersion, a skydive into the reality of an environment that has nothing to gain by absorbing the new object. The innovative architectural apparition must, in a certain manner, remain alien to its environment. This attractive, fragile and strange apparition must avoid being tempered by its local context if it is to have any effect on it and break through the indifference and boredom of the local residents.
Located outside the small town of Château-Arnoux on a plateau overlooking the magnificent Durance valley, the site for the Château-Arnoux cultural centre immediately reveals itself as being disappointing. The anarchic town planning around the town’s entry points has completely submerged the magnificent countryside. This disenchantment is further increased by the post-modern neo-Provencal architecture of the existing building to which the auditorium will be attached. Given this context, the extension needed to take advantage of all opportunities offered to powerfully stand out to become the site’s first reactive project. Paradoxically, the opportunity was presented by the neoregionalist regulations imposing sloped roofs and the level of their gutters when taken against the total height of the constructions. The regulations permitted the installation of the auditorium’s imposing volume on condition that it be covered by a monumental roof with low hung sides. An atypical and particular interpretation of the regulations allowed the auditorium volume to be entirely separated from its roof and to incorporate a great height between the two elements. This transformed what otherwise might have been a normal roof into gigantic wings floating well above the average height of the surrounding structures.
An astonishing and sparkling beacon in its environment, the floating roof discovers and reveals the entire in- situ finish concrete case of the auditorium and its high level technical entrails. These close up and distant views allow the extension to radically stand out from the existing building against which it is virtually attached. Inside, the black box of the auditorium and the horizontal window set above the stage create a “camera obscura” effect throwing the attractive external landscape into perspective. This is in reaction to the existing context which had reduced the surrounding countryside to insignificance. The new auditorium is a tool able to direct the public’s attention and focus onto the beauty of the site, once again making it into a permanent grandstand attraction.